Journaling for the Body and Soul

Journaling for the Body and Soul

“People who keep journals have life twice.” – Jessamyn West

All I could see was the blank page.

I found myself staring at the journal that lay open on my lap. It was the third time in a week I’d made an attempt to start writing in my new journal and I was determined to begin with something other than ‘Dear Diary.’

Several minutes, one headache, and three aspirin later I closed the journal and decided I’d try again tomorrow when I was fresh. Preferably in the morning when I feel the most clever.

The morning rolls around and I sit staring at that wretched blank page which just stares right back at me as if to say, “How many times are we going to go through this?”

Finally I caved and I wrote, ‘Dear Diary,’ in black pen.

Suddenly, the words that wouldn’t come flowed easily. I wrote for an hour. Who knew I had so much to say? I was fascinated.

I’ve been writing in a journal every day for the past 45 days, and it has changed my life.

Why Bother With Journaling?

Just like any habit, it takes a work to maintain a journal. For people like me, it’s difficult to start a journal. For others, it’s the ‘keeping’ part of journaling that feels impossible to maintain.

Regardless of where you get stuck, it’s likely that you’ve tried journaling before only to use the pages for your latest paper mâché project.

Journaling, if you can keep it up, offers a plethora of physical and emotional benefits. Some benefits are obvious while others may surprise you. All of them make taking the time to develop the journaling habit worth the effort.

Understand Your Feelings

Journal writing is a voyage to the interior. ~ Christina Baldwin

Most of us are too busy to stop and reflect on our feelings in the middle of the day. Many of us also feel really uncomfortable talking about our feelings to others and often don’t want to burden others with our ‘issues.’

Enter your journal.

Your journal wants to know everything you’re feeling and why. I once wrote an entire 4 page entry on why I thought the feeling of stress was responsible for the seemingly unrelated pain in my right shoulder. I didn’t get a single complaint from my journal!

When I’m feeling a shameful emotion or an emotion that I’ve avoided expressing, getting it down on paper always feels like a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Some people rip those pages out and burn them, since it’s the act of writing that matters, not the result.

There are other times where I’m not sure what I’m feeling or why I’m feeling a particular way, so I use my journal to figure it out. See an example from earlier this year below. By the end of the journal entry I was able to pinpoint my feelings and their cause.

journaling

Lower Stress and Increase Emotional and Physical Health

The looking over & filling up my journal to my mind always gives me pleasure. I seem to live my life over again. If I have been unhappy, it rejoices me to have escaped it; if happy, it does me good to remember it. ~ Anne Lister

Writing about traumatic, stressful, and/or emotionally charged events in life has been shown to improve physical and psychological health.

When you write without reserve and expressively about stressful or traumatic topics, you will have less stress-related visits to the doctor, a stronger immune system, a greater feeling of psychological well-being, improved lung and live function, reduced blood presser, a higher grade point average, improved working memory, and more!

Let’s not forget about the wonders journaling can do for your self-esteem!

Did someone say something nice to you today? Tell your journal. There’s no judgment there. You don’t have to worry about sounding conceited or full of yourself.

List all of the ways in which you are amazing. I often write in length about how awesome I am.

Record Events and Lessons Learned

Dear Diary

I mean no disrespect

But you are more sublime

Than any Sacred Text

Sometimes just a list

Of my events

Is holier than the Bill of Rights

And more intense

~Leonard Cohen

Every day you learn something new.

How many of these new things do you think you actually retain?

Probably not as many as you’d like.

What would happen if you wrote down every lesson learned, every great piece of advice you’ve heard, close calls and near misses, every success and the actions behind it, and all that has or hasn’t worked?

Imagine what a compilation of knowledge you’d have!

You would be able to flip through your journal occasionally and re-learn long forgotten lessons whenever you choose.

Safe Emotional Dumping Ground

Everyone should have a form of a diary, it’s a great release. ~ Stanley Victor Paskavich

There are times when you just need to vent. Your journal doesn’t mind how often you vent and how many times you repeat the same tired problem.

This is especially useful when you feel like making false statements about the thing or person that made you angry. When you talk to a friend you’ll have to clarify you understand you’re generalizing and you understand that, logically, none of that is really true. Your journal already knows.

Clarify Your Thinking

In the journal I am at ease. ~ Anais Nin

It’s easy to get all caught up in the daily activities of life and never settle down to reflect on whether the actions you’re taking today are still bringing you toward the larger goals you identified for yourself. When you journal often you can see if you’re off track or right on target.

Additionally, you get to reflect on insights about yourself if you read back through the journal. You can see thought patterns, behaviors, and common themes.

The best part for me is using my journal to make decisions. I can flesh out the entire problem from every single angle and look back over it. Usually the answer will come to me during the process of writing the pros and cons.

The Ultimate Creation

I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you. ~ Mae West

If historical figures never kept journals, think about all of the history that would have been lost. I often wish that my grandparents kept journals so I could see firsthand what life was like for them so long ago.

Imagine 100 years from now when you’re dead and gone. If you journal every day for the rest of your life you’ll have dozens of journals for your grandkids to read and hundreds of experiences to offer them that they would have never be able to know.

Where to Keep Your Journal

I prefer physical journals since I can write in them anywhere, they’re not limited by the location of power outlets, and they limit distractions. I will concede that I’m a really fast writer and I’m not all that concerned with penmanship.

There are people who write so slowly I experience true physical pain just watching them drag their pen across the page. If you’re one of these people, there’s no shame in using a computer to journal. There are journaling programs you can use, or just use a text file or word processor.

How to Stick With It

This is the big question, isn’t it? It takes a special kind of discipline to journal everyday for five weeks, not to mention five decades.

Here are a few tips to keep you on track.

Free Yourself From Rigid Expectations

So many people get hung up on what to write about, how long to write, and how many words they should log.

Write about anything. You don’t have to catch your journal up on the first few decades of your life. Start with today. Start with this very instant. You don’t need journal prompts to get you started, as they often discourage you when you find you have nothing to write about concerning that particular topic.

As a matter of fact, ‘Today was a good day,’ is a perfectly acceptable journal entry when you’re feeling less inspired.

If having zero expectations make you uncomfortable, then you could do what I do, and commit yourself to writing three things you’re grateful for that day and three things you’re proud of achieving. Here’s an example from my very own journal:

journaling

The first thing I was grateful for was my dog Peanut’s face. In the entry before this one I expressed extreme gratitude for my nose. It’s ok to be grateful for the simple things in life. Don’t worry if every journal entry doesn’t reveal something profound about humanity. Whatever you write in your journal is what was supposed to be written. Nothing more and nothing less.

Don’t Ask Too Much From Yourself

You don’t have to force yourself to write for 15 minutes to consider yourself a legitimate journal keeper. Require three sentences, or, using the example from above, one thing you’re grateful for and one thing you’re proud of.

Even just writing, ‘Too tired to journal. I’m grateful for my pillow,’ is more than enough. Just stick with your commitment. The content will come when it’s ready.

Set a Time and Leave Your Journal in a Place You Can’t Forget About It

I journal every evening right before bed. I never take my journal out of my bedroom since I’m bound to forget it somewhere and be too lazy to get it when I lay down for bed.

So there it stays with a pen inside of it (that also never leaves) and ready to be written in. It’s nearly impossible for me to forget to write because seeing my journal is a visual cue.

This is the best way to create a routine that will get you journaling every day. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you pick or where you journal as long as your remain consistent.

Photo by JoelMontes

Liz Seda

Liz is a corporate dropout turned lifestyle designer and punchy personal development blogger. To find out more, go to her blog at A Life on Your Terms and download her member-only Life Lovers Guide to the Galaxy. You can also find her on twitter at @elizabethseda.

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47 Comments

  1. Really helpful post. I’ve found writing – journals and other stuff like travel diaries – to be a great way to process things and get clarity. Writing with a pen in physical notebook does seem to be more powerful than typing at a keyboard. Perhaps the directness and physicality of the experience helps?

    Reply
    • Hi Peter!

      You know I can’t say what it is, but I’ve always liked to interact with my reading and writing. There’s a permanence to writing something down on paper. Even if in pencil, you’ve changed that piece of paper forever. No eraser is good enough to leave it as found. It’s deliberate and purposeful.

      Well, as you can see, I’m a fan of the handwritten word! I’m glad you found this helpful!

      Liz

      Reply
  2. I have been struggling with this for a long time. It is helpful to know that others struggle with keeping the commitment to journal as well. I have been aware of the benefits of journaling for a long time but that didn’t seem to get me going. Thanks for the article and the reminder. I will keep trying.

    Reply
    • It’s my pleasure Lisa! I find that it really helps me if I just commit to putting pen to paper and writing a word every night. Also, I probably shouldn’t say it, but pretty and intricate journals motivate me. I just love writing in them.

      Plus, it’s so satisfying to see an entire book filled with your handwriting! Like undeniable proof that you existed.

      Keep it up and keep us updated on your journaling adventure!

      Liz

      Reply
  3. Maintaining the journal is one of my good habits. I would like to store all my experiences and feelings of everyday life in my diary. When i read it later, it will be a pleasure for me. It reminds me of those moments again.

    Reply
    • Me too Shashi!! I love flipping through it and going back to the state of mind I was in 27 days ago. It’s so satisfying to have captured it.

      Liz

      Reply
  4. I find that writing things down allows me to move on to other things. If I have an idea and I don’t write it down it sort of gets stuck in my brain. Writing it down lets me get to the next piece of the puzzle. I think we have a finite space for ideas and writing them down allows us to move beyond that.

    Reply
    • This is so true! Especially when I have a ton of small things to do or to remember or just to note, it helps so much when I write it down. It’s all there, safe in one place. It can’t be forgotten now and I can allow it to leave my mind in peace. Great point Robert!

      Reply
  5. Although I frequently journal, I’m often so paranoid that someone may one day stumble across my thoughts. Every time I journal I get this feeling and so I hold back and don’t let my trusted Moleskine in. I only tell it superficial things but I don’t let it know about the little things that brought me down, nor do I tell it my fears or insecurities. Any advice on overcoming this? Realistically, I don’t think anyone would find it so how do I assure myself?

    Reply
    • That’s very interesting Vincent! Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to remove an idea with logic that was placed in your mind illogically in the first place. I wouldn’t battle with the practical parts since you know them yet you’re still paranoid.

      I think it’s more important to think about why you’re so scared someone will find it in the first place, and what would happen if they did. What would that mean? Why are you so afraid of it? Fix that first. You can even journal about it :).

      Plus you could always use a pen name and sign off as Jack Sparrow or something. Then you’ll be totally anonymous!

      Reply
      • It’s just the idea of someone in my family having access to my personal thoughts. My family is rather cruel about being emotional and they often speak behind each other’s backs. Having someone find it would be devastating.

        I love that pen name idea but that would just add even more ridicule. It’s a strange family but I love them all. Either way, they’re not getting their hands on my trusty dark blue journal!

        Reply
  6. I am a great supporter of writing on paper.
    I have tried to keep a journal in a text file but the emotional involvment is not the same.
    There is a direct link (and flow) between your brain and the paper and the computer just stays in the middle, blocking part of the process.
    Who cares about nice or bad handwriting? The journal is for you.
    For any one interested in the topic i suggest “Journal to the self” by Kathleen Adams.
    A wonderful book…

    Reply
    • Awesome recommendation Mario thank you! I totally agree with you about the paper.

      When you’re typing, writing one letter is a matter if pushing a button. Another, different letter can be written in the same way. It removes us from the words.

      Plus, if you and two others type the same words, no one could tell the difference, but if you hand-write something, it’s immediately recognizable as yours :).

      Reply
  7. I’ve tried all kinds of journaling and I still can’t keep to one :( But at least I do writ every day. I love going through them when bored. They are really worth it in the long run. I have been writing for about 13 years now. It’s my favorite thing in the world, and my journals my most valuable possessions.

    Reply
    • Hey Marisabel! Sounds like you’re pretty great at keeping a journal to me :). I can’t wait until I have 13 years of journal entries to look back on.

      Reply
  8. Great post. Personally I find that journaling helps immensely with reaching goals in life. If nothing else, you only keep a journal for a goal you work on, it’ll be worth it.

    Reply
    • Absolutely Harry!! I actually have to journals. One I use just to write whatever I can think of, the other I use to keep me on track for my biz goals. I don’t know what I would do without either of them.

      Thanks for bringing that up! Good point and I completely missed it.

      Liz

      Reply
      • Liz, it’s smart that you keep a separate journals for just for biz goals, I might try that myself. :-)

        Reply
  9. Journaling has been the number one activity that has helped me cope with my mental illnesses. I’ve tried doing it on the computer a few times so that I could get the thoughts out faster but it was never anywhere near as therapeutic as actually hand writing the thoughts out on paper.

    It also became much easier and more useful once I learned not to be so rigid about daily writing. Some days I write multiple times, some days I don’t write at all. It’s just there when I need it.

    Reply
    • Absolutely Angie! Although I do maintain a regular schedule, I’m also not very rigid in my rules for what makes a journal.

      Also, journaling helps me work out what’s in my mind as well. I find that I can coach myself through really difficult times using my journal, and seeing my thoughts in my hand writing is incredibly therapeutic.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

      Reply
  10. I find journaling an important way to release the stress of the day, as you mentioned in your wonderful blog. In the Stress Management Journal shared at the Hawaii Health Getaway’s “Art of Stress Management” program I attended, you first jot down your most obvious causes of stress, like traffic jams, arguments, bad news or layoffs. Then, you write down what kind of stress you experience — irritability, frustration, anger, fear, depression or worry. Then, add physical stress symptoms, like aches and pains, catching a cold or more serious illness.

    Once you’ve identified your stressors and your reactions to them, it’s a good idea to use a variety of tension tamers like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, exercise and progressive muscle relaxation. I offer a free chakra balancing meditation for download that works well to relieve stress on all levels – at http://www.thechakras.org/meditations.html.

    If anyone wants more info on the upcoming Kauai stress-management retreat from April 26-May 3, please see http://www.HawaiiHealthGetaway.com.

    Namaste!
    Becca

    Reply
    • Cool Becca! Thanks for this! I’ve always wanted more information on this. My good friend is an energy healer, so I’ve been fascinated by the subject for quite some time now.

      Namaste!
      Liz

      Reply
  11. Hi Liz,
    My ‘journal’ has been dormant for two years…..just made an entry now, will try to keep it going. Thankyou.
    be good to yourself
    David

    Reply
    • Alright David! You’re so very welcome.

      Reply
  12. Hi Liz, so good to see you here! I enjoyed your post and so many times I have started a journal only to abandon it. You had several great reminders and ways to make it useful and not laborious.

    When CJ and I were working opposite hours, we kept journals and addressed them to each other. Now we have several of them filled with our thoughts and dreams – many of which are only now coming true. You are so right about the recurring themes. We noticed them and took action. Now we can look back and say, “Hey! We don’t do THAT anymore!” Empowering!

    Reply
    • Hey Tammy!! I’m glad you found this useful. You and CJ should keep up your journals! Even if you’re not addressing them to each other. It continues to be empowering I find, no matter how long you’ve been journaling for!

      We should start a shelter for abandoned journals everywhere. What do you think?

      Reply
      • Yes, if for nothing else, we should do it for the trees! Tree love! :)

        Reply
  13. I have had problems getting started as well. I know I make everything more difficult than it has to be. Do you think writing in a notebook is better than typing up one in word?

    Reply
    • Hi Liz, brilliant article. I’m socially sharing. Pen to page everyday is the only way to journal if you want to benefit your health and happiness, your body and soul. WriteON!

      Reply
      • Thanks for sharing Mari!! I appreciate it a lot.

        WriteON indeed!

        Reply
    • Hey Pam! I think that 8 out of 10 times, it’s hand writing is better than typing. Some people really have a hard time writing because they are slow or absolutely illegible, and they prefer typing.

      But there’s something profound about interacting with your writing. You can’t just press a delete button and delete your journal from existence. It has a permanent physical presence in this world, and that’s what I love about it.

      I especially love seeing an entire journal filled with my handwriting. You can take it anywhere with you, you can draw, write big exclamation points, write in big letters in the margins. It’s so much more flexible and personal.

      But again, it’s all a matter of opinion. Do what feels right to you.

      Reply
      • Thank you so much! I’ll get mine back out and start writing again. Thanks for the motivation, I loved how you said you live twice, once through your journal. I love your work and I always take something from it.

        Reply
  14. I’ve written journals/diaries for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’m faithful to the habit…sometimes not. I try not to get hung up on that, though. I have sometimes struggled with the keeping of the physical things, though. The thought of having that record of your life, your thoughts, your experiences for children or grandchildren is lovely. But then again, what if there are parts of your life that make you less than proud? Or embarrassed? Tough one.

    Reply
    • Hey Lisa! I think about that sometimes too. But then I remember that shame thrives in secret and dark places. To get it out there is to begin forgiving yourself and accepting that you’ve done what you’ve done. You don’t have to like it, but you also don’t need to hide it.

      Plus, maybe your grandchildren can learn from what you’ve done. If you have lessons learned, then those are just as helpful, if not more so, to your grandchildren. I really like writing about the darker places, because I’m kind of forced to work through it and accept it as a part of who I was.

      Such a toughy but I’m glad you mentioned it.

      Reply
  15. Hi All

    i have kept a gratitude journal for the past year. I started writing whilst in a very lonely and dark place after becomming chronically ill. It started as a way to shift my mind to a positive focus so that it could help my state of mind to help my condition. I started in March last year and am amazed at the progress i have made in my life. I am also amazed at how the great moments and realisations all sit in this journal. I made a specific effort to make asterixes next to the days or moments i was grateful for, the thoughts that kept me afloat and made me realise that there is yet another day which could hold an even better experience and opportunities to improve myself. Now i find i repeat those thoughts in my head and they are a part of me and have helped me change my habits and ways of thinking long term. I even started pasting beautiful little stickers and posters with positive messages after each writing and find that i have a wonderful magnificent journal that i love to look at each and every time i open it.

    Reply
    • What a lovely story Yazzie! Thanks for bringing us along on your journey. You’re living proof that journaling is absolutely wonderful for the heart and soul :).

      Reply
  16. This is a wonderful reminder to me! I’ve kept a journal since I got my first one on my 13th birthday (I’m 31 now), but I’d stopped a little while ago when I started thinking that a lot of my thoughts were very negative. However, looking back now I realize that it was just part of my journey towards being completely honest with myself and finding my way out of the predicaments that gave me those thoughts to begin with!

    Take it from someone who has boxes full of journals, some I’ve left half blank even, it’s therapeutic, and it’s “safe”. No one gets their feelings hurt, and you end up feeling like a ton of bricks have been lifted off your back!

    The only thing I have to add is this: don’t be afraid to use other forms of expression like photos, doodles, collages, anything other than your own handwriting. Sometimes, even a phrase cut out of a magazine mean more than a whole page of scribbling.

    Journey well, Liz!

    Reply
    • OH Lee! Right on about the other forms of expression! I did think of including that in here, but I didn’t want to seem like I was bouncing around topics. But you’re so right! In my biz journal, I’m always cutting out words and pictures from magazines that represent my goals. I draw in color pencil sometimes and I love making collages.

      It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do! I wish I could share a picture in my comment! Thank you so much for bringing that up Lee! Because some people like visuals better, and that’s just as good of a journal as any other :).

      Reply
  17. i used to keep a journal long ago and it made it feel way better about unpleasant life events , gotta get back to that habit

    Reply
    • Let me know when you do! Maybe buy a really expensive journal so you HAVE to write in it :).

      Reply
      • Dear Liz,

        I found that expensive journal just have the opposite effect. I love them but you feel you have to write something important on them! Cheaper journals do not intimidate you. I like binders where you can easily add pages, remove them or group them tematically.

        If someone is interested in the power of writing as a self-healing process, another good book is Natalie Goldberg’s classic “Writing Down the Bones”.
        A book for lovers of writing.

        This is a very interesting post!

        Greetings from Italy

        Mario

        Reply
        • Mario, thanks for recommending that book, which looks like an interesting read.

          Reply
  18. Great post. I kept journals for 15-20 years. I still do, but do not enter as frequently because I now blog and write books, which I believe is a direct extension of journaling.

    Reply
    • And you play the banjo too apparently! Which is also pretty good for the soul :).

      Reply
  19. Journaling has saved my life during many times in the past. There’s just something magical about spilling it all, isn’t there? Whenever I slack and don’t journal for a while, I notice that I’m feeling less satisfied and balanced. Once I pick the habit up again, I instantly feel better. Thanks for sharing the power of journaling.

    Reply
  20. I haven’t written in a journal in a few years. I’ve tried to get back into it because it always felt so good after writing down my thoughts but haven’t gotten around to it. Sometimes I wouldn’t know what to write, but once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Thank you for reminding me how important and helpful writing in a journal can be.

    Reply
  21. I’ve always thought about starting a journal just to get myself motivated to accomplish the things I wish to accomplish. I’ve always found someway to put it on hold though, and it irritates the heck out of me, yet I still put it off. I take small steps here and there, like one day I will write a small recap, but then a week will pass. I need to make it a daily occurrence and I feel like some of the tips you mentioned will help me with this a lot. Thanks for the great post, it really is nice to see what I always want to do, but never have, reinforced by someone else.

    Reply

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